“Share your ideas with other competitors and they’ll do the same with you,” is wisdom Bill Bentsen of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin shared with a then-teenage Gary Jobson, president of The National Sailing Hall of Fame (NSHOF), says stuck with him all these years. Bentsen was one of two inductees into the 2017 National Sailing Hall of Fame hailing from the Great Lakes region. Joining him was Bill Martin of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The two represent the best Great Lakes sailing has to offer.
In a prepared statement, Bentsen wrote: “We of the class of 2017 are a varied group of builders, competitors, designers and volunteers involved at every level of our sport. What we all share, I believe, is a feeling of optimism that our contributions to sailing, and this very special Induction process, will inspire young sailors across the country. I was fortunate to have been helped and encouraged by many remarkable people.”
Both of Bentsen’s Olympic medals were won while crewing for Buddy Melges. The longtime friends and fellow scow sailors targeted the 1964 Olympic Games in the Flying Dutchman class, easily winning the U.S. trials before going on to win a bronze medal at the Games in Tokyo. Eight years later they joined forces again to race in the three-person Soling which made its debut as an Olympic class in 1972. With the addition of another Lake Geneva Yacht Club member, Bill Allen, they would go on to win a gold medal at the Munich Olympic Games.
Bentsen’s sailing resume includes a gold medal at the 1967 Pan Am Games in the Flying Dutchman, national and North American championship titles in scows and ice boats. However, it is his singular focus on improving the sport for other competitors that has earned him the sport’s highest inte rnational and national honors: World Sailing’s Beppe Croce Award in 2009 and US Sailing’s Nathanael Herreshoff Award in 1994. He authored The Yacht Racing Rules Today (Dodd, Mead, 1974), as well as articles for sailing periodicals about boat speed and tactics, course design, scoring, and the racing rules. His sailing experience, combined with his many years volunteering for various sailing organizations, is highlighted by spearheading a general revision and simplification of the racing rules that became The Racing Rules of Sailing for 1997-2001; race management procedures that are in place today are a direct result of his analytic skills and practical approach.
“We all have our sailing memories,” said Bill Martin. “All the wins, the near wins, the night races. But I think, for all of us, it’s the new the people you meet, and the opportunity to sail with your family and with your friends. That’s what sailing means to me. It’s the people you work with on behalf of the sport. My life in sailing has been enriched by those experiences.”
Notwithstanding a lengthy sailing resume, Inductee and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Martin surprisingly did not come from a family that sailed. In fact, it was not until he was a grad student at the University of Michigan (U-M) that he was introduced to the sport.
Martin earned a BA from Ohio’s Wittenberg University in 1962, and a graduate degree in economics from the University of Stockholm in 1963. He received his MBA from U-M’s Ross School of Business in 1965 and three years later, at age 28, founded First Martin Corporation, an Ann Arbor real estate construction, development and management firm.
Martin got hooked on sailing. While raising two sons with wife Sally, he was always racing. To this day, his favorite boat is the Santa Cruz 70, because he can take all his buddies and family on it. “It is easy to sail and it’s a hoot,” said Martin. He would race toward representing team USA in the 1981 Admiral’s Cup and won the 2008 Rolex US-IRC National Championship.
Martin was asked to get involved with the national governing body of the sport by Gaither Scott, the legendary Annapolis sailor who was a highly respected international race officer. “Don’t take out of a sport without putting back,” said Scott. He suggested Martin take on the chairmanship of the US IRC Committee which oversees offshore racing during a call that came several months after a cheating scandal had rocked offshore sailing. Martin accepted the challenge and led efforts to improve regulation of the sport. After serving as President of US Sailing (1988-1991), he took on the same role with the U.S. Olympic Committee (2003-2004) at a time when that organization faced an ethics crisis and its programs were in dire need of restructuring.
NSHOF celebrated its seventh class of Inductees on Sunday, September 24, during ceremonies hosted by New York Yacht Club at Harbour Court clubhouse in Newport. Joining our two Great Lakes residents were six other inductees, including three posthumous honorees. The NSHOF is dedicated to preserving the stories of these sailing heroes to inspire future generations and has now honored 65 heroes of the sport. For more information on previous inductees, please visit www.nshof.org